Former vice president Al Gore finally stepped forward to endorse Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign on Monday night, telling a crowd of thousands at a hockey arena, "Take it from me -- elections matter."
Obama's first campaign appearance with Gore came as no surprise, but it triggered renewed speculation about whether the two might form a joint ticket.
"The outcome of this election will affect the future of our planet," Gore said at the Joe Louis Arena in downtown Detroit. He mounted a fierce defense of Obama's age and experience, saying that the senator from Illinois, 46, has more than enough of both to serve as president.
Gore resisted efforts to elicit his endorsement during the Democratic primaries, but he announced Monday in a letter to supporters that he intends "to do whatever I can to make sure [Obama] is elected President of the United States." He also solicited donations from members of AlGore.com on behalf of Obama -- the first time, he said, that he has asked his supporters to give to a political campaign.
The theme of Monday night's speeches was Democratic Party unity, with Obama, Gore and Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm all vowing to bring the party back together after a hard-fought primary. But the crowd was not ready to come along. It loudly booed Granholm after she mentioned Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), drawing a rebuke from Obama when he took the stage.
"I want everybody here to be absolutely clear," he said. "Senator Clinton is one of the finest public servants we have in American life today. . . . She is worthy of our respect. She is worthy of our honor."
Even so, Obama sent a strong signal Monday that he is not considering Clinton to be his vice presidential nominee, through his selection of Patti Solis Doyle to be chief of staff to whomever he does choose. Solis Doyle was ousted as Clinton's campaign manager in February.
The announcement outraged Clinton supporters, who saw it as proof that Obama is not taking Clinton seriously. Since losing her job, Solis Doyle is no longer a part of the Clinton inner circle and is barely on speaking terms with her former boss.
"It's a slap in the face," Susie Tompkins Buell, a prominent Clinton donor, said Monday. "Why would they put somebody that was so clearly ineffective in such a position?" She said it was a "calculated decision" by the Obama team to "send a message that [Clinton] is not being considered for the ticket."
Solis Doyle is the most prominent person allied with the Clinton campaign to move to the Obama circle; so far, no one who stayed with Clinton until the end has made a similar leap. Since clinching the Democratic nomination two weeks ago, Obama has sought to win over Clinton donors and is now facing a challenge by the presumptive Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), for her female supporters.
Clinton insiders said picking a fired Clinton staff member will not help ease the transition. "Who can blame Obama for rewarding Patti? He would never be the nominee without her," said one person who has worked for both Hillary and Bill Clinton and remains close to them.
Although she has devoted most of her career to working for Hillary Clinton, Solis Doyle was blamed by some close Clinton loyalists -- and reportedly the candidate herself -- for not keeping the campaign in order heading into Iowa. After being yanked from her role, Solis Doyle said she would travel with the campaign and remain an adviser, but she was not seen on the road again.
Officially, Clinton campaign spokesman Mo Elleithee offered praise for Solis Doyle. "Patti will be an asset and a good addition to the Obama campaign," Elleithee said. "After nearly two decades in political life, she brings with her the ability to tap an extensive network that will be a huge asset to Senator Obama. As Senator Clinton has said, we're all going to do our part to help elect Senator Obama as the next president of the United States."
As long-standing as Solis Doyle's ties to Clinton once were, her Chicago roots are even deeper. Her first job in politics was working on Mayor Richard M. Daley's campaign staff, and she has a long friendship with Obama's chief political adviser, David Axelrod. She also is close to Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), another Chicagoan and Obama confidant.
Since clinching the nomination, Obama has moved quickly to prepare for the general election. He moved key parts of the Democratic National Committee to Chicago, announced a vice presidential selection committee and pivoted to confront McCain.
On Monday, Obama announced that he will travel to Iraq and Afghanistan before the November balloting. He may also make a trip to the Middle East, his advisers said. Obama spoke by phone with the Iraqi foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, about the war Monday, one day after McCain met with Zebari in Washington.
Obama, speaking with reporters as he landed in Flint, Mich., for a campaign event on the economy, repeated his call for U.S. troop withdrawal and for Iraqis to bear a larger share of the war's fiscal burdens, especially reconstruction. He again tied the war in Iraq to U.S. economic concerns. And later, in a speech there, Obama said: "It's time to stop spending billions of dollars a week on a blank check for an Iraqi government that won't spend its own oil revenues."